Financial Details You Should Keep Secret (Even From Your Family)

"lest we regret, don't talk" propaganda poster

This “loose lips might sink ships” propaganda poster is a fun metaphor for your financial secrets. | New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Keeping secrets isn’t easy, even if the secret is your own. When it comes to your finances, you have every incentive in the world to keep your information on the hush-hush. There are the obvious reasons you’d want to do that. Keeping your assets out of the hands of criminals is one example. Or there’s the possibility your personal relationships could be changed by the revelation of your wealth or lack thereof.

The point is you should keep some things to yourself. Keep them a secret. And among those things are details related to your financial health.

But when it comes to keeping secrets, you’re probably comfortable sharing information with some people, such as close friends and family. That isn’t always a good idea. Although you should definitely always be forthcoming about your finances with your spouse, that’s not always the case with other family members, such as your parents, siblings, cousins, etc.

Loose lips sink ships, or so they say. When it comes to money, playing fast and loose with your family members could end up sinking you if you’re not careful. Here are some aspects of your finances you shouldn’t volunteer to family members unless you have a deep trust in them.

1. Your salary

Most of us keep our salaries or earnings to ourselves. We typically don’t talk about how much money we make, as it’s considered to be a sort of social taboo. You could argue it’s either stupid or wise to keep your salary a secret, but one group of people you might not want to disclose it to is your family.

With the exception of your spouse, cluing family members into your finances can garner you unwanted attention. If they know what you’re earning, you might suddenly become viewed as a piggy bank — or someone who is expected to help get everyone out of every financial jam they get into. In their eyes, you can afford it.

2. How much you have in the bank

Bank of America ATMs

Don’t be the family ATM. | iStock.com/snyferok

Keeping what you earn is one secret. How much cash you have on hand is another key piece of your finances you will want to play close to your chest. The same logic applies. If people know you have money, you might be expected to pay for everything. You have the money, after all, and family members might try to guilt trip you into forking it over.

But it’s not just the money you have immediate access to that you’ll want to keep ho-hum about.

3. How much you have saved up

businessman pouring coins from piggy bank

Your savings are your business. | iStock.com/dolgachov

Do you know how much you have saved up? Do your family members know? This is yet another number that can warp your familial relationships if you’re not careful. Hopefully, you have an emergency fund saved up, as well as some retirement savings and maybe some investments. Altogether, this can look like a lot of money. From another perspective, it might be hard for someone to understand why you couldn’t tap into those savings to help out a family member.

Again, letting loved ones know you have some savings isn’t a cardinal sin. But sometimes, putting an exact number on it can create some waves.

4. Your net worth

"Breaking Bad" characters lying on a pile of money.

If you disclose your net worth, your family might see you as a number. | AMC

Have you ever calculated your net worth? If you have a mortgage or some hefty student loans, it might not amount to much. But if you’ve been working for a while, have some savings and investments, and some property? Your net worth might be fairly impressive. It might even make you “rich” in the eyes of those around you. As we’ve been harping on, this can transform your relationships — even if you’re really not “rich” at all.

On the flip side, you might not want to let everyone know how much financial trouble you’re in either.

5. Outstanding debts

Debt can cause crazy reactions when discussing your finances

Debt can cause crazy reactions when discussing your finances. | Mario Tama/Getty Images

That brings us to debt. Debt is a serious problem in millions of American households, and many people have trouble confronting it out of embarrassment or stress. It’s much easier to ignore your accounts than it is to suck it up and put together a plan. Your debt is another element of your finances you might want to keep a secret from those outside of a few immediate family members. Just like having a lot of money (or at least the appearance of a lot of money) can warp relationships, so can debt.

Family members might think you have compulsive tendencies, for example, or they might keep you from making important financial decisions in the family.

6. Stocks and bonds

The Wall Street sign near the front of the New York Stock Exchange

Avoid talking about your investments. | Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

We’ve touched on investments, and just like your savings, this is something you might not want to openly discuss with family members. Investments can take numerous forms, and if you tell someone you own 50 shares of a penny stock, a naive family member might take that to mean you’re flush with cash or a financial genius.

When it comes to stock and bond trading (if you do any of it all), consider this another sensitive area. After all, you don’t want a brother-in-law offering you “investment opportunities” every Thanksgiving, do you?

7. Inheritances

Money is hidden under a mattress

Don’t let inheritance destroy relationships. | iStock.com

Inheritance is where money and family overlap. In many families, a looming inheritance is enough to create lasting rifts. People get jealous and suspicious of each other, and, of course, this can lead to criminal behavior if unchecked. There’s really no good or easy way to handle inheritances, especially large ones. Your best bet is to stay quiet about it.

Perhaps most importantly, don’t assume you’re getting anything or think you’re entitled to anything. When you expect the worst, you’re setting yourself up for a softer landing if things take an unexpected turn.

8. When you plan on retiring

retirement label on jar filled with coins

Keep your retirement plans to yourself. | iStock.com

As we’ve discussed, having savings or investments — or even just the appearance of wealth — can change a family dynamic. Nothing tells family members or friends you’ve planned well and have┬áconsiderable financial reserves like retiring — especially retiring young. For that reason, you might want to keep your retirement plans a secret, at least from family members who you think might suddenly become needy and rely on you for financial assistance.

9. Tax avoidance strategies

person dressed as Statue of Liberty waving sign that says "it's tax time"

Don’t discuss taxes. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Taxes are a touchy subject. And if you tell family or friends you’re dodging taxes in this political environment, it can become an explosive issue. If you’re actively engaged in tax avoidance strategies — legal strategies, of course — it might be best to keep that between yourself and your advisers. If you have enough money that you’re actually employing some of these strategies it means you have enough money to loan some to your cousin for a new car.

10. Saving and investment strategies

A man with calculator and pen

If the topic is uncomfortable, keep your strategies to yourself. | iStock.com

It’s not just the amount of money in your savings, checking, and investment accounts you’ll want to keep a secret. How you built those accounts is also sensitive. You might feel compelled to share your saving and investment strategies with those close to you. Usually, there’s nothing wrong with that. But again, mixing family and finances can make things weird.

The money itself is one thing, but the ways you’re saving and investing can give family members pause, too. Say you own a timeshare in a Trump property. Is that likely to affect a personal relationship? It could. And so could your extreme frugality, which can take different forms. Your best bet is to just shut up about it, particularly around family.

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